Half a North Coast 500

Ride level Experienced cyclist
Distance 267 mi / 430 km
Type of bicycle Road bike
Traffic free
Circular route
Riding down towards Poolewe from Gairloch

Julie Rand, Cycling UK's Volunteer Communications and Engagement Officer, rode this route with her husband Roland on early May Bank Holiday 2018. The weather was kind - apart from one day into a brutal headwind when they turned back south it was otherwise perfect, not too hot and a tailwind. Best of all, no midgies as it was still too early for them! 

If it's stunning mountain scenery, quiet roads, breathtaking sea views across to distant Western Isles, crystal clear lochs, sandy beaches, glimpses of wildlife and challenging but glorious climbs you're after, then this route has the lot but it's for the fairly fit, self-sufficient and experienced rider only as there's long stretches without anywhere to find mechanical assistance or even refreshments - you're in the wilds of Scotland here. 

It follows some of the route of the North Coast 500 so is a shorter version of that if you haven't got time for the whole thing. The route can be split into day-long legs of approximately 50 miles each as follows:

Day 1 - train from Inverness to Strathcarron - book bike spaces in advance via Scotrail website then ride over Bealach na Ba (one of the highest road passes in the UK!) to Applecross and then along the coastal road to Shieldaig. 

Climbing Bealach na Ba

Day 2 - Shieldaig to Poolewe via Gairloch - lots of climbing and descending but the best views in Britain especially along the Glen Torridon Valley to Kinlochewe

Day 3 - Poolewe to Ullapool - a very tough day around the coast and then inland alongside Little Loch Broom through lovely Dundonnell Forest and up onto remote but rugged moorland. A final push across the Corrieshalloch Gorge before you hit the A835 and fantastic descent into Ullapool - but watch out for the logging lorries!

A Highland cow

Day 4 - Ullapool to Kylesku - a fantastic and spectacular ride around Assynt-Coigach on extremely quiet (mostly) single track lanes with towering peaks in all directions and beautiful lochs. Very few places to stop until you reach Lochinver and then another incredible rollercoaster ride - some ascents you may have to push up for a short while - but the rewarding descents more than make up for this. There's a fabulous hotel in Kylesku overlooking Loch Glendhu and also wild camping available. 

Day 5 - Kylseku to Lairg - you could do a diversion up to Durness and Cape Wrath but we turned south - into a strong headwind!! - on a easy-rolling virtually empty A road through great scenery alongside Loch More, Loch Merkland and Loch Shin. A sign at the start of the route tells you it's 25 miles to the Overscaig Hotel, the only place to get refreshments until Lairg!

Day 6 - Lairg to Dingwall - you might think the worst climbing is over but as you head back to civilisation, you soon realise it's not! It's a big heave up from Bonar Bridge to Alness and the first views of the Cromarty Firth since leaving Inverness nearly a week ago. You can catch a train back into the city from Dingwall or continue on the NCN alongside the firth in. Of course, you can also square the circle by riding across to Strathcarron and catch the train back from there. 

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